The NBA Time Machine: 1970

Published April 1, 2023

The NBA Time Machine:

Six To Seven

The New Lew

Excitement defined the 1969 NBA draft with the incoming arrival of young basketball phenomenon Lew Alcindor. A skilled center that tore through leagues at the high school and college level, he was the most sought-after prospect since Wilt Chamberlain. From 1967-69, he won three consecutive NCAA championships with the UCLA Bruins and was undeniably considered the best talent in college basketball. The dunk was even banned at that level because of his dominance.

Once he completed his education, Alcindor was unsurprisingly bombarded with offers from teams everywhere. The most notable bidders were the Harlem Globetrotters, the ABA’s New York Nets, and whoever won the first pick in the NBA draft. That eventually became the Milwaukee Bucks, who won a coin toss with the Phoenix Suns for the opportunity.

Among the three, Milwaukee’s financial commitment appealed to Alcindor the most. It was four-hundred-thousand more dollars than what the Globetrotters offered, and towered above the Nets’ proposal as well. New York eventually tried to land Alcindor by guaranteeing over three million dollars, but he declined – the abrupt increase in money had an underlying tone of degradation, with Alcindor feeling like an object in a bidding war.

The Bucks improved substantially with their new rookie, improving by twenty-nine games and finishing second in the Eastern Division. Alcindor finished third in M.V.P. voting and assured a playoff berth in the franchise’s second season of existence.

Goodnight, Beantown

The changing of decades also signified a new era in NBA history – over the off-season, Boston Celtics greats Bill Russell and Sam Jones both retired. Russell immediately stepped down as coach of the Celtics as well.

The two biggest backbones of the dynasty that ruled basketball for thirteen years were now both missing, making the chase for a title an open race. This had enormous implications for Eastern Division teams, as well as the Los Angeles Lakers, who had a disturbing 0-7 record against Boston in the Finals.

Down Goes the Dipper

After what was arguably the worst post-season of his career, Wilt Chamberlain had to make changes going into the next year. Brand new coach Joe Mullaney wanted him to be the focal point of L.A.’s offense, similarly to how he was utilized during his years with the Warriors. Chamberlain complied, averaging 32.2 points per game in his first nine games of the season on fifty-seven-percent shooting.

However, the four-time-M.V.P. sustained a tendon injury in the ninth match of the year that had career-ending potential. He was sidelined indefinitely, but surprisingly made a return for the last few games of the season. The rustiness was apparent, although the fact he bounced back from such a travesty was already impressive as is – there was a clear want to show commitment to Los Angeles.

In the meantime, the Lakers persevered – forty-six wins still orbited the team, something to thank Jerry West for. Forwards Elgin Baylor and Happy Hairston did their fair of heavy lifting, but also missed a good chunk of games. L.A.’s success despite so many injuries was remarkable.

Coaching Chaos

Personnel matters were a mess this season, with eight of the fourteen NBA teams seeing some kind of coaching change. There was also a rise in player-coaches, with Bob Cousy (who came out of retirement), Lenny Wilkens, and Al Attles all suiting up at some point in the year.


Starting with this season, the league began to base statistical titles on “per game” production, as opposed to totals over the season.

To briefly break the fourth wall – this blog has always based its information on “per game” statistics, for the sake of continuity with later years.

Standout Players

Willis Reed

Reed continued his superstar play with a slightly increased career high in scoring, locking up sixty wins for the first time in New York City. All eyes were on the center as he grabbed every accolade imaginable – the M.V.P., All-Star Game M.V.P., All-NBA First Team, and All-Defensive First Team.

Lew Alcindor

Alcindor achieved arguably the greatest rookie season of all-time. He may have not grabbed an M.V.P. out of the gate like Wilt Chamberlain or Wes Unseld, but he took a young expansion franchise to fifty-six wins. It was not absurd to consider him the best talent in the NBA, despite his relative inexperience.

Jerry West

You would think a decade of superstar play would indicate an incoming decline for West, but he wanted no part of it. The point guard achieved his best season to date, seeing career highs in scoring and assists while lifting an injury-riddled Lakers team to the second seed.

Walt Frazier

While Reed deservingly got the media attention, Frazier was arguably just as important – if not more – to the Knicks’ success. This breakout campaign saw him amongst the top five scoring point guards, as well as a narrow second place on the Knicks. He became an elite and efficient playmaker as well, a development that made New York even more dangerous from all places.

Wes Unseld

Despite a disappointing playoff outing in the previous year, Unseld continued to show out. He led the Bullets through another fifty wins, while also improving massively on the offensive end.

Connie Hawkins

Hawkins was a rare example of an ABA player favoring to play in the NBA, despite his sustained success in the rival league. The small forward became an instant star for Phoenix, finishing top ten in scoring average and blessing the young franchise with their first playoff berth.

Around the League

Team Standings

An asterisk (*) indicates that the team qualified for the playoffs.

Eastern DivisionWLWestern DivisionWL
New York Knicks*6022Atlanta Hawks*4834
Milwaukee Bucks*5626Los Angeles Lakers*4636
Baltimore Bullets*5032Chicago Bulls*3943
Philadelphia 76ers*4240Phoenix Suns*3943
Cincinnati Royals3646Seattle SuperSonics3646
Boston Celtics3448San Francisco Warriors3052
Detroit Pistons3151San Diego Rockets2755

Fun Facts

  • For the first time since 1950, the Boston Celtics finished with a losing record.
  • The Eastern Division continued to tower over the Western Division – the latter had no fifty-win teams and two playoff representatives with more losses than wins.
  • Despite being the worst team in the NBA, the San Diego Rockets were phenomenal defensively.
    • This served as a testament to the tenacity of sophomore Elvin Hayes.
  • Thanks to star player Connie Hawkins, the Phoenix Suns performed good enough for the fourth seed and a playoff appearance.
  • The Milwaukee Bucks‘ twenty-nine win elevation was the greatest season-to-season improvement in NBA history.
  • The Cincinnati Royals‘ struggles continued – this was their fourth consecutive year with a .500 record or worse.
    • The final of .439 was also their second-worst during Oscar Robertson’s tenure, only slightly hovering above his rookie season.
  • A year after getting the franchise to fifty wins for the first time, New York Knicks stars Willis Reed and Walt Frazier rose that bar to sixty.
    • New York joined the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers as the only teams to achieve such.

Notable Movement


The player stats listed are based on their last tenure, whether it be with their former team or the previous season.
Name(s) under the “Top Draft Picks” section with a plus (+) opted to play in another league instead of the NBA this season.

p – points
r – rebounds
a – assists

Top Draft Picks

Milwaukee Bucks
Phoenix Suns
Seattle SuperSonics
Detroit Pistons
Chicago Bulls
San Diego Rockets
San Francisco Warriors
Cincinnati Royals
Boston Celtics
Atlanta Hawks
Lew Alcindor
Neal Walk
Lucius Allen
Terry Driscoll+
Larry Cannon+
Bingo Smith
Bob Portman
Herm Gilliam
Jo Jo White
Butch Beard


June 20, 1969Connie Hawkinsn/a (ABA free agency)SignedPhoenix Suns(30.2p/11.4r/3.9a)
September 2, 1969Chet WalkerPhiladelphia 76ersTradedChicago Bulls(18p/7.8r/1.8a)
October 25, 1969Jerry LucasCincinnati RoyalsTradedSan Francisco Warriors(10.3p/11.3r/2.3a)
November 18, 1969Bob CousyBoston CelticsTradedCincinnati Royals(13.2p/2.5r/6.8a)
November 21, 1969Bob CousyCincinnati RoyalsUn-retiredn/an/a

Other Personnel

May 9, 1969Coach Ed JuckerCincinnati RoyalsFiredRecord: 41-41
May 9, 1969Player-coach Bob CousyCincinnati RoyalsHiredRecord: n/a
May 19, 1969Coach Butch Van Breda KolffLos Angeles LakersResignedRecord: 55-27
May 21, 1969Coach Butch Van Breda KolffDetroit PistonsHiredRecord: n/a
June 30, 1969Player-coach Bill RussellBoston CelticsRetiredRecord: 48-34
June 30, 1969Coach Joe MullaneyLos Angeles LakersHiredRecord: n/a
July 11, 1969Coach Al BianchiSeattle SuperSonicsResignedRecord: 30-52
Summer 1969Player-coach Lenny WilkensSeattle SuperSonicsHiredRecord: n/a
September 15, 1969Coach Tom HeinsohnBoston CelticsHiredRecord: 34-48
December 9, 1969Coach Jack McMahonSan Diego RocketsFiredRecord: 9-17
December 10, 1969Coach Alex HannumSan Diego RocketsHiredRecord: 18-38
January 2, 1970Coach Red KerrPhoenix SunsFiredRecord: 15-23
January 2, 1970Interim Coach Jerry ColangeloPhoenix SunsAppointedRecord: 24-20
January 27, 1970Coach George LeeSan Francisco WarriorsFiredRecord: 22-30
January 27, 1970Player-coach Al AttlesSan Francisco WarriorsHiredRecord: 8-22


PlayerTeam(s)Notable Accomplishments
Zelmo Beaty
(jumped to ABA)
Atlanta Hawks2x All-Star
1963 All-Rookie Team
Wayne EmbryCincinnati Royals
Boston Celtics
Milwaukee Bucks
1x Champion
5x All-Star
Sam JonesBoston Celtics10x Champion
3x All-NBA
5x All-Star
Rudy LaRussoLos Angeles Lakers
San Francisco Warriors
5x All-Star
1x All-Defensive
Bill RussellBoston Celtics11x Champion
5x MVP
11x All-NBA
12x All-Star
1x All-Star Game MVP
1x All-Defensive
4x Rebounds Leader

League Leaders

If a stat is not listed, it was not recorded at the time. As time goes on, this section will begin to include steals per game, blocks per game, etc.


PPG – points per game
RPG – rebounds per game
APG – assists per game
FG% – field goal percentage (percentage of shots that hit)
FT% – free throw percentage (percentage of foul shots that hit)

PPGJerry West (31.2)
Lew Alcindor (28.8)
Elvin Hayes (27.5)
Billy Cunningham (26.1)
Lou Hudson (25.4)
RPGElvin Hayes (16.9)
Wes Unseld (16.7)
Lew Alcindor (14.5)
Bill Bridges (14.4)
Gus Johnson (13.9)
APGLenny Wilkens (9.1)
Walt Frazier (8.2)
Clem Haskins (7.6)
Jerry West (7.5)
Gail Goodrich (7.5)
FG%Johnny Green (55%)
Darrall Imhoff (54%)
Lou Hudson (53%)
Jon McGlocklin (53%)
Dick Snyder (52%)
FT%Flynn Robinson (89%)
Chet Walker (85%)
Jeff Mullins (84%)
John Havlicek (84%)
Bob Love (84%)



East / Milwaukee Bucks beat Philadelphia 76ers, 4-1
Rolling into the post-season, the Bucks were favored going into this series. They were significantly better than the 76ers in the regular season, and Lew Alcindor was a nightmare matchup for Philly. Considering he never delivered less than thirty-three points – and maintained a killer efficiency along the way – there were no surprises at hand.

The 76ers avoided a sweep thanks to a strong outing from Billy Cunningham in Game 2, but it meant nothing. Not even fifty points from the star bought a Game 4 win – Philadelphia’s overall defensive effort was terrible. This would become their second consecutive 4-1 loss in the first round of the playoffs.
East / New York Knicks beat Baltimore Bullets, 4-3
The Bullets looked to reverse their disappointment of the previous year, and had a large task at hand facing the Knicks. The teams ultimately split the series with two home court victories each – Earl Monroe influenced Baltimore’s second, amassing thirty-four points.

Game 5 featured an offensive meltdown from the Bullets, who had no players posting positive efficiency or over twenty points. Willis Reed feasted on Wes Unseld, managing a 36/36/3 effort. He was conversely much quieter in the following sixth match, which Baltimore ran away with to force a final tiebreaker.

New York generally maintained control over the seventh game, sporting six double-digit scorers and particularly good efforts from Dave DeBusschere and Dick Barnett. The magnifying glass was on Unseld for the loss – a pathetic two points characterized his night, while teammates Earl Monroe and Gus Johnson put everything on the floor with a combined fifty-five.

Baltimore’s effort was better this year, but they had now experienced back-to-back first-round exits.
West / Atlanta Hawks beat Chicago Bulls, 4-1
The Bulls were back in the playoffs after a down year, and had to face the first-seeded Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks were notorious for their calculated, diverse offensive mechanics that made them difficult to outscore. Such a strategy was immediately on display, as they won by a combined forty-eight points in their first two wins of the series. Chicago’s perimeter defense was poor, giving Joe Caldwell and Lou Hudson whatever shots they wanted.

Game 3 was a better effort from the Bulls, but they fell apart in the second half and found themselves down 0-3. They fought away elimination with a phenomenal outing from Jerry Sloan, Chet Walker, and Clem Haskins – the three combined for ninety-one points, managing great efficiency in the process.

The decisive fifth match was more defensive, but ultimately leaned in Atlanta’s favor. They just had the better personnel to ensure victory.
West / Los Angeles Lakers beat Phoenix Suns, 4-3
With Wilt Chamberlain returning to play, the Lakers were heavily favored to dismantle the inexperienced Phoenix Suns. All went as expected in the first match, with L.A.’s big three combining for eighty-eight points.

What was surprising was three consecutive Suns victories as a response, something nobody could have predicted. The Lakers failed to score efficiently or contain Phoenix, who had an arsenal of scorers prepared to go off on any given night. Elgin Baylor going down with an injury in Game 4 didn’t help either – he was sidelined halfway through the first quarter.

The reigning Western Division champions got their act together behind the dominance of Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West, as well as a hobbled Baylor. This included a convincing Game 6 road victory and blowout in the seventh game, which completed the second comeback down 3-1 in league history.

Division Finals

East / New York Knicks beat Milwaukee Bucks, 4-1
The Knicks were the biggest story of the year, but the gap between them and Milwaukee wasn’t as large as some would assume. The Bucks only won four less games, and possessed one of the league’s best offenses. This was thanks to Lew Alcindor, who remained un-guardable against the best defense in the NBA. He averaged thirty-six points in the two opening Milwaukee losses, one of which was by a single point.

The Bucks caught fire at home for a Game 3 victory, but New York returned to form in the fourth match. Nobody on the Knicks performed as well as – or could effectively contain – Alcindor, but Milwaukee’s supporting cast was marginally worse and surely less experienced. They had hopes of avoiding elimination in Game 5, but were disrespectfully blown out behind thirty-two points from Willis Reed. This was perhaps Alcindor’s worst game of the series, although twenty-seven points on average efficiency could be much less compelling.

With this series victory, the Knicks were headed to the Finals for the first time since 1953.
West / Los Angeles Lakers beat Atlanta Hawks, 4-0
If there was one mistake the Lakers could not afford to make, it was letting their guard down again. Jerry West and Elgin Baylor looked phenomenal in the opener, and they won another at home to secure a 2-0 lead. Atlanta fought harder moving forward, with everybody but West struggling on the road against them – an overtime-accompanied Game 3 made for some intense basketball and a narrow L.A. victory. They only needed one more win to advance, which would be the first series sweep of the “big three” era.

Concern was non-existent in Game 4, as the Lakers blew their rivals out amidst a vintage West-Baylor exhibition. The most interesting quality of the match was a rare appearance from Hawks player-coach Richie Guerin, who was far removed from his days of stardom. Despite this, he managed to lead his team in scoring with thirty-one points. He made great usage of the set shot, a scoring form that had died down in usage for many years now.

Talk about a veteran performance, sweep or not.


New York Knicks beat Los Angeles Lakers, 4-3
This was now the Lakers’ third Finals appearance in a row, going against a new Eastern opponent in the Knicks. The two clubs split wins in Madison Square Garden, with L.A. winning by a narrow two points in the final moments of Game 2. The story wasn’t much different than that of the Celtics Finals a year prior – Jerry West carried the offensive load, Elgin Baylor was efficient but less aggressive than needed, and Wilt Chamberlain was not scoring enough.

Willis Reed was relentless in Game 3, willing his team to a road win in overtime behind his impactful thirty-eight points. The following match was yet another overtime thriller, this time featuring a defining Game 4 victory by the Lakers. West accounted for sixty-percent of his squad’s production when you considered his gaudy assists total.

Darkness loomed over New York when Willis Reed went down in Game 5 with a leg injury, only managing to play a portion of the first quarter. This greatly hurt the chances of a Knicks championship – how would they pull through without their leader? The answer was Walt Frazier, who nearly achieved a triple-double en route to a Knicks upset victory.

Los Angeles had no choice but to respond at home, now down 3-2. Chamberlain immediately took advantage of Reed’s absence, with a performance reminiscent of his Warriors days. He scored forty-five points and grabbed twenty-seven rebounds, hardly missing any field goals along the way. This resulted in a blowout win for the Lakers that forced a Game 7.

The last match was in New York, a comforting environment for the disadvantaged Knicks. A legendary moment was made when a hobbled Reed walked onto the court during warmups, igniting the fans and motivating his teammates. He proceeded to make the first two field goals off his classic mid-range jumper on a hurt leg, as well as limiting Wilt Chamberlain to poor shooting from the jump.

Reed eventually had to sit once the injury was re-aggravated, but it did not matter – New York led 69-42 at the end of the first half, a relieving cushion. Walt Frazier was the unsung hero of the game, compiling thirty-six points, seven rebounds, and nineteen assists on exceptional efficiency.

The Lakers were unable to overcome the deficit behind constant turnovers and mediocrity from Jerry West. The Knicks became the last of the “original three teams” to win their first championship, and their opponent was now 0-7 in the Finals since moving to Los Angeles.
The New York Knicks win the 1970 NBA championship!
Willis Reed was named the Finals Most Valuable Player.


Name(s) under the “All-Stars” section with an asterisk (*) were listed as the MVP of the All-Star Game that year. Those with “(IR)” next to their name were chosen to replace an injured star.

Major Awards

Rookie of the YearMVPFinals MVPCoach of the Year
Lew AlcindorWillis ReedWillis ReedRed Holzman


All-NBA First TeamAll-NBA Second Team
Walt Frazier
Jerry West
Billy Cunningham
Connie Hawkins
Willis Reed
Oscar Robertson
John Havlicek
Lou Hudson
Gus Johnson
Lew Alcindor


All-Defensive First TeamAll-Defensive Second Team
Walt Frazier
Jerry West
Dave DeBusschere
Gus Johnson
Willis Reed
John Havlicek
Joe Caldwell
Jerry Sloan
Bill Bridges
Lew Alcindor


Eastern All-StarsWestern All-Stars
Lew Alcindor
Billy Cunningham
Dave DeBusschere
Walt Frazier
Hal Greer
John Havlicek
Gus Johnson
Willis Reed*
Oscar Robertson
Flynn Robinson
Tom Van Arsdale
Jimmy Walker
Elgin Baylor
Bill Bridges
Joe Caldwell
Connie Hawkins
Elvin Hayes
Lou Hudson
Jeff Mullins
Bob Rule (IR)
Nate Thurmond
Dick Van Arsdale
Chet Walker
Jerry West
Lenny Wilkens
East beats West, 142-135


All-Rookie Team
Lew Alcindor
Bob Dandridge

Mike Davis
Dick Garrett
Jo Jo White

All-Time Championship Leaderboard

The Baltimore Bullets (1947-1954) won the championship in 1948, but are defunct. As a result, they are not listed.

Celtics111957, 1959
1960, 1961
1962, 1963
1964, 1965
1966, 1967
Lakers51949, 1950
1952, 1953
Warriors21947, 1956
76ers21955, 1967

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